Over the last 18 months I’ve been building an extension to my house. This has involved re-landscaping the garden, building the extension and now fitting a kitchen. You might ask what business a desk jockey like me has in doing something like this? You might also wonder what this has got to do with IT projects? Well it turns out there are many parallels and life lessons to be learned.

No alt text provided for this imageGood Requirements

The first thing I did was to get an architect to draw up the plans. This involves an expert in their field producing a detailed design. Every piece of wood, insulation, etc is specified by dimension and quality. This document is then reviewed by the council’s Building Control team who will make sure it meets all the relevant legislation and will eventually check that you have built it as per the specification. This document became my bible.  Always start with good requirements.

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Project Management

I’m sure most of us know the secret to project management is to break tasks down into manageable chunks. That’s how I set about my build. Break each task down, understand what materials are needed, what skills I needed to learn and what tools I needed to buy or hire. I also had to agree with my client (wife) the principles we would be working too. The budget was tight, we wanted it to be good quality, so the timeline had to be flexible. No unrealistic deadlines.

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Learning to Learn

We have not quite reached the level of technology we saw in The Matrix 20 years ago, where Neo (Keanu Reeves) says in his best Ted Theodore Logan voice “I know Kung Fu” after he downloads a new skill in a few seconds. We do however possess the entire collective knowledge of humankind in our pockets on our smart phones. I found the most important skill I needed was learning how to learn. If you can do this then you potentially can do anything (almost, more on that later). For me learning involved referring to my bible, working out what task was next, watching a lot of YouTube (thanks Skill Builder and I Like to Make Stuff) and then putting it in to practice as soon as possible. I’ve learned how to lay foundations, lay bricks, build frames, roof trusses, plumbing, electrics, insulation, plaster-boarding and more than I can even remember using this method.  

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Know Your Limits

There are some skills that while it is possible to do a reasonable job, the practice element of learning means you need to invest more time than is practical to get a good quality finish. I realised that in order to maintain the quality that we wanted I would need to get some expert help. Step forward the plasterer, roof tiler, electrician and joiner. These guys came through when I needed them to get the results we wanted.

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Stick to the Plan

So once the plans were approved, we have stuck to them religiously. The only change from plan is that we ended up with one big roof window rather than two. This was because the smaller windows were not available in the spec we wanted. That’s it. One change request in 18 months. I have learned the impact of changing projects in over 20 years of software projects and time and cost are always impacted. There’s no Agile in domestic construction.

Of course having set no deadline previously we'd now like it to be done by Christmas, wish me luck.

Author: Nick Grant Principal Consultant